In a previous blog we discussed ‘How do you choose a trainer’ giving you things to consider when searching for a potential candidate to work with you and your dog. Like many of today’s skills and services there are those that are enthusiasts, amateurs, or professionals, capable of offering different levels of service and proficiency. To support you in identifying who-is-who The Way of the Dog will run a series of blogs to help you make informed choices about enlisting the services of reputable dog trainers.
One of the most important decisions to be made when taking ownership of a new puppy, or when re-homing a dog, is how, when, and where you will begin the dogs training. Scientific evidence supports the fact that initial dog training should begin early and certainly during the first 6 months of a dog’s life as this will help shape the future long term behaviour of the dog. Unfortunately, a large proportion of dog owners leave it to chance and often far beyond the 6 month period when the dog has become difficult before they seek assistance. It is no coincidence many young dogs, who receive no formal training during the early months, are later abandoned, handed over to dog rescues, or are passed from home-to-home, during the period 6 months to 2 years.
Training a dog that is older than 6 months should not be a problem for a competent and qualified dog trainer. It just means that it is likely to be more difficult, possibly more expensive, and certainly more time consuming for the dog owner during the initial stages of training.
So what should we consider before enlisting the services of a dog trainer? During the coming weeks we will discuss specific aspects that may help you decide how to choose the right trainer for your needs. Here are a few topics that we will discuss:
- ‘One-to-one training versus group training.’
- ‘What constitutes a qualified dog training instructor?’
- ‘Should training be conducted indoors or outdoors?’
- ‘How much should dog training cost, price versus quality?’
If there are specific questions that you would like to raise relating to the sourcing of dog training please feel free to leave a comment and The Way of the Dog will consider including in future blogs.
This is the study of Seb the Romanian Orphan. Seb and his owners are currently engaged in a training and behaviour project with The Way of the Dog Ltd. Raised on the streets of Romania Seb learnt to scavenge for food and fight for survival. A feral dog is an entirely different prospect than taking on a young puppy from a reputable breeder. Below is the story of how Seb found himself with a loving family from the UK.
In late 2011, a tour across mainland Europe with the band Midas Fall took us (Seb’s owners Liz and Rowan) to Romania for the first time. The Romanian leg of the tour began in Cluj Napoca in the west, onto Lasi in the north east and finally to the capital Bucharest in the south.
Throughout our time in Romania we encountered thousands of stray animals; dogs and cats lined the streets of cities, towns and rural villages. The animals waited outside shops, bars, restaurants and even public toilets to beg for food and affection from passers-by.
The pain and suffering of the countless malnourished and often injured stray animals was very difficult to absorb. The experience was so far removed from anything we had ever seen before that it became almost surreal.
After arriving back in the UK we decided that on our next trip to Romania we would adopt a dog – that dog was to be Seb. He came to us quite by accident; an unscheduled stop at a service station on the outskirts of Lasi was the moment it all began. Pottering around by the automatic doors was a tiny black puppy; his fur was matted, he was smelly, flea-ridden, had an eye injury and was clearly in need of a good meal. However, in spite of his desperate situation, Seb was extraordinarily affectionate, playful and trusting – we knew he was a keeper.
After scouting the area for other dogs, as he seemed very young to be alone, and checking with the service station attendant that he wasn’t someone’s mistreated pet, we decided to bring him home. That night we drove to a hotel Brasov where Seb was treated to a bath, a hot meal and a soft bed by a roaring fire.
The following day he was taken to a vet in Bucharest, where he was vaccinated, chipped and quarantined for three weeks before embarking on his journey to the UK, arranged with the help of Red Panda Romania.
Red Panda Romania is an animal charity based in Bucharest who work with various animal aid organisations across Europe. Since the Romanian government issued a mass-cull of stray dogs in September 2013, Red Panda and other animal charities have worked tirelessly to stop dogs like Seb being slaughtered on the street or being left to die in ‘kill shelters’. Of the dogs lucky enough to be saved the vast majority are adopted by people living in the UK. Many of the adopters already have pets and frequently publish success stories showcasing how well the strays settle into family life.
In our case, Seb settled in very well with our other dogs and was comfortable in his new surroundings within a few days.
However, his harsh start in life had impacted him more than we had anticipated and it was clear that we’d need help raising him to reach his full potential. A chance meeting with Shaun from The Way of the Dog led to us being taken on as clients and the next chapter of Seb’s story began.
In the next chapter of Seb’s story The Way of the Dog Ltd will explain how the relationship came together.
During the month of February The Way of the Dog Ltd visited AIM Education, Stanningley, Leeds, to teach young people about responsible dog ownership and the impact that status dogs are having on our communities. During both visits Olla was the main attraction with the young learners interacting with him at every opportunity.
AIM Education is a new non-for-profit organisation, which has been set up to create opportunities to overcome inequalities and enrich the local community. The organisation works with young people who are referred from schools, in need of a different educational route.
This particular dog project was a working collaboration between Carl Harrison (Director, Aim Education) and Shaun Hesmondhalgh. Carl is a former member of the Royal Air Force Regiment and a former teacher and colleague from Bolton College. A two pronged approach allowed this project to get off the ground with Carl securing funding from concerned stake holders and Shaun developing and delivering the workshop.
The youngsters engaged from the start using their imaginations and their personal experiences to bring creativity and realism to the sessions. They presented firm and responsible views on how dogs should be treated and provided real accounts about horrific and fatal incidents concerning status dogs. The experience was enlightening and it was both interesting and concerning to hear the different views that the young people have concerning the motivations for owning a dog.
To conclude the workshop an obstacle course was set up and the learners challenged Olla to a race. After much laughter and excitement the score finished 2 – 2 as the final run off was declared void due to shortcuts being taken by both the youngsters and the dog. The whole workshop was a resounding success, a remarkable experience, and it was fantastic to see Olla, who has had his own emotional journey, interacting in a relaxed and comfortable manner with the young people of Leeds and Bradford.
The Way of the Dog Ltd is a professional training provider and dog behaviour consultancy and is able to deliver bespoke educational workshops to youth and community groups seeking to raise awareness regarding responsible dog ownership. Please contact Shaun Hesmondhalgh at The Way of the Dog Ltd for more information.
Earlier this year I arrived home and found a note attached to my door. The note was a plea for help and a request to contact the owner of a one year old Welsh Terrier called ‘Bailey’. I immediately contacted the owner and arranged a meeting.
I met a lovely lady who was very distressed and at her wits end, ‘Bailey’ had been punishing her and inflicting nasty bites. What surprised me was the fact that I knew this little dog and had no idea of the double life it was leading. I had encountered her whilst out with my own dogs. The dog that I had observed was a pleasant and confident dog, albeit one that was noticeably very independent. However, I had no idea what was occurring behind the scenes.
Following an initial consultation with the owner it soon became apparent that this was a situation whereby a dog was controlling the environment and more significantly the owner through physical force and aggression. The owner had reached a crossroads and had no idea which way to turn. This was further complicated by the actions of the dog walker and also guidance provided by a local trainer.
The dog walker held the view that all dogs should know their place and be put there physically. Sadly, this is also still the view of many that operate in the dog industry; however there is a vast difference between calm effective leadership and physically forcing a dog into submission. This position was further exasperated by the actions of a local dog trainer, who provided advice, guidance, and instruction that resulted in an escalation of the dog’s aggressive temperament.
A clear lack of knowledge, experience, and professional training, resulted in extremely poor advice being given. The individual instructed the owner to tackle her dog’s display of aggression with a rolled up newspaper and charged her for the privilege of such outrageous advice. Using physical punishment to deal with a dog already learning to be aggressive is quite simply a recipe for disaster. Meeting aggression with aggression generally leads to one party getting injured and the intensification of behavioural problems.
This was a straight forward case of people misunderstanding how dogs learn and failing to recognise breed traits, if you fight a terrier there is a strong chance that it will fight back. After all they are game dogs that were bred to tackle, badgers, otters, foxes, and other creatures once considered vermin.
‘Bailey’ had simply learnt to defend herself against anything that she considered unpleasant. However, she had also become accustomed to redirecting her pent up aggression on her loving owner. She was being the dog that she was bred to be, fearless, bold, and game, but she was expressing her anger in the wrong direction and with significant consequences. When she became intolerant or bored she became feisty and attacked her owner. This was demonstrated through several unpleasant encounters that resulted in superficial injuries. The position was untenable, the relationship damaged beyond repair, and urgent action required.
The owner truly cared for ‘Bailey’, but sadly she was unable to meet the needs or control the demands of her terrier and it soon became apparent that a new home was the only likely successful outcome for this young dog. A new home would be a chance to start afresh with strong owners who understood the needs of the dog and more importantly could meet them.
Before attempting to find a new home the people who bred ‘Bailey’; were contacted. They formulated the opinion that the owner was too soft and should take a firm stance with ‘Bailey’. This opinion they formed without any observation or assessment. They also criticised the owner for seeking external support from The Way of the Dog, but then stated that they would euthanize ‘Bailey’ if she returned to her breeding home. The owner was heartbroken; she knew that she had to find a new home or continue to suffer the punishment from ‘Bailey’. She could not support the breeder’s views or their suggestions of euthanasia. She had tried her hardest to engage with ‘Bailey’, but the damage was done.
Notwithstanding all the unnecessary sadness, this case has ended well. I can happily report that some months on ‘Bailey’ lives in a new home with new owners and other dogs to provide her with guidance. The early days have not been without incident but she has slowly learnt to trust again and is progressing very well indeed. Her new owners manage her carefully reducing any opportunity for her to practice being aggressive.
They have taken ‘Bailey’ very much to their hearts and have provided a stable home and environment in which she can now flourish. Each week that passes is a step in the right direction and the new owners are committed to meeting ‘Bailey’s’ needs and maintaining a safe and structured environment. ‘Bailey’s’ former owner is delighted that ‘Bailey’ is now happy and safe.
From the many cases that I have dealt with the case of ‘Bailey’ epitomises the extent to which routinely treating a dog with physical force and punishment can lead to real and serious damage for both dog and owner. It also highlights the extent to which damage can be caused by enlisting the services of poor trainers.
The Dog Training industry is a rapidly growing trade with many turning from dog lover to dog trainer in a very short space of time without formal or industry recognised qualification. The current situation is that the industry is largely unregulated and as a result many different trainers or training providers offer a range of different classes or courses that are in some cases misleading promoting a false sense of ability and understanding. Until such time as the industry is regulated there will be many who will continue to claim that it is not necessary to receive professional training before positioning oneself as a professional trainer or behaviourist.
The situation is further confused by the myriad of different qualifications, post nominal letters, or affiliation to associations and organisations. Badges of honour or association with elitist groups do not ensure quality, ability, or professional standards. The truth is that some organisations are open to anyone who can pay the entrance fee or meet specified criteria seldom related to the promotion of professional and ethical dog training standards. Some make claims that are quite simply impossible to achieve, but nonetheless they continue to tap into your emotions and suggest otherwise.
So how do I choose someone I hear you asking? Simply put, you need to take your time and ask those that you are considering working with difficult questions about who they are and where they have come from? Never part with your money until you know exactly who it is that you have enlisted. Adopt a similar approach to that relied upon when seeking tradesmen to work on your home or perhaps coaches or tutors working with your children.
Only recently was it necessary for me to clean up the mess left behind following the exasperating service delivered by an amateur trainer claiming professional status. Clearly possessing no knowledge of how dogs learn or taking into consideration individual breed characteristics the unskilled individual armed the unsuspecting owner with a weapon to thwart aggressive approaches. Cans and cartons filled with stones, water pistols, rolled up newspapers, aerosol cans, these are the types of tools that may very well suppress a behaviour but do not get to the heart of the matter. Suppressing a behaviour has the potential to lead to other behavioural problems developing. A rolled up newspaper to thwart an energetic and mischievous terrier is likely to lead to one thing, and one thing only, the escalation of aggression. The aggression may not necessarily be immediate, but it will return with a vengeance at some point.
I often muse over the following questions; How can one claim professional status if not working or training dogs full time? How can one claim to be a professional trainer without receiving professional tuition from an appropriate source? Clearly there will always be exceptions to the rule, with truly gifted people. Like the golfer who has never had any formal training yet can play golf once a year and beat everyone on the course. This does happen, but the reality is that these people are few and far between and can rarely explain the talent that they possess. We all strive for the unconscious competence, yet this seldom comes without years of practice and exposure.
For the vast majority of dog owners dogs are our pride and joy, our valued companions. The Way of the Dog believes that dog owners should tread very carefully when seeking out people to work with their faithful companions. Do your homework, take your time, and check credentials.
Share your tips or experiences on how to select a trainer here and help others to make the right decision about their dogs future.
More to follow on this subject.